Call to Action: Repeal Tuition Now

The events surrounding Cooper Union over the past year have largely been oversimplified as tuition protests, but tuition isn’t the real problem facing the Cooper community. Over the past several decades the Board has eroded the agency of faculty and students in governance, rapidly expanded the administration, subtly watered down the college’s mission, and financialized every aspect of the institution’s culture. As a result, much of the community stood disenfranchised long before the first mention of tuition in the Fall of 2011. The administration has charged forward with “Reinvention” while the community has worked to reverse the process and change the college’s administrative structure.

Following a sixty-five day student occupation of the President’s Office this past summer, a negotiation between students and trustees led to the formation of a Working Group to “seek an alternative to tuition.” On Wednesday December 11th the Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet and review the Working Group’s plan, which has been in review by the Executive and Finance Committees of the Board for the past week. Despite the current Board and administration unilaterally rejecting the community’s input over the past two years, the Working Group’s “good faith effort” resulted in a platform of cost cutting proposals which illustrate that tuition is not the only viable financial model for Cooper Union.

Over the past year, Free Cooper Union has issued demands of the Board of Trustees to affirm their commitment to free education, provide increased transparency, and implement more democratic decision-making structures; as well as calling for the resignation of Jamshed Bharucha through school-wide and community-wide Votes of No Confidence. Despite our progress, every advance has been undermined:

  • The administration has continued to expand during a faculty hiring freeze.

  • A student representative to the Board was not given voting rights, and was almost called off entirely by the Board when students attempted to hold a direct election.

  • Last year’s early-decision applicants to the School of Art were all deferred at the last minute to pressure faculty into submitting a report on revenue generation.

  • Bharucha sent an email mischaracterizing a steep decline in applications as “fantastic” ”extraordinary” and “a strong early decision pool”.

  • Bharucha has not returned to his office for 216 days, prohibiting use of the entire 7th floor lobby and conducting his affairs from a college-owned townhouse nearby.

  • Bharucha abruptly fired two Vice Presidents known to be advocates for student rights, just two weeks before the beginning of the fall semester.

  • The Board is seeking to implement a drastic new Code of Conduct which will remove the judiciary process from the hands of students and effectively allow the administration to quell all dissent.

It is fully within the Board’s purview to repeal tuition at Wednesday’s meeting. If they decide not to, we will demand nothing further of the Board, but something of each other: that we stop our work until we can rejoin the college as active participants in its governance. We are the Cooper Union and it is up to us to rally around and protect our institution.

On the 211th day that Jamshed Bharucha has still not returned to the President’s Office on the 7th floor of Cooper Union’s Foundation Building — opting instead to run the college from his free townhouse around the corner — Free Cooper Union brought to him a Christmas Carol. Merry Christmas and to all, and to all $20,000 in student debt!

Sing along (lyrics after the jump):

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The Politics of Destruction: A leaked Cooper Union Board meeting transcript

Streaming live from e-flux:


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On the evening of November 24th, 2013 at e-flux, Free Cooper Union will hold a performative reading of the 41-page Board of Trustee meeting transcript leaked by the Village Voice in July 2013. Students play the roles of trustees and Jamshed Bharucha’s lines are played by a computerized text-to-speech tool.

Weak coffee and mini-hot-dog hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Press coverage of Cooper Union leaks: Village Voice NYU Local Art F City Hyperallergic

#TwoWeeksofLeaks Recap: First 7 days of #TwoWeeksOfLeaks in review.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

@FreeCooperUnion #TwoWeeksOfLeaks, Day 9: A Sense of Betrayal

Today’s leak is a report by consulting firm The Whelan Group that was presented at the March 2012 Board meeting. In January of 2012 the Board authorized an unbudgeted expense of $63,000 over five months for The Whelan Group’s services, “to build capacity to lead the institution effectively through a period of financial challenges and organizational change. The Whelan Group conducted confidential one-on-one interviews with nearly the entire Board of Trustees and many members of the senior administrative staff.

The Whelan Group’s reportback on these anonymous interviews speaks volumes on the Board and Administration’s dysfunctionality:

  • “Almost universally, Board members recognize that there is an issue of ‘community’ confidence in the Board related to fundamental policy and financial decisions that were made during the tenure of the previous administration.”

  • “There is deep criticism [amongst Board members] of a lack of transparency on the part of the previous administration [of George Campbell] — and a broadly held feeling that the Board was shielded from information that they needed to make informed decisions — especially about the development of the new building and related fundraising campaign.”

  • “There is strong recognition that, as the school’s financial realities became clear the board was not fully prepared to address the challenges in a fully strategic way.”

  • “Most interviewees referred to the time when dissent on the Board was decidedly unwelcome.”

The Whelan Group’s recommendations are so obvious that it’s hard to believe they took five months to formulate and cost over $60,000 of the college’s money:

  • “The first step in resolving any problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem”

  • “A change in Board culture, practice and membership is in order.”

  • “The Cooper Union would be well served by reviewing the engagement of each and every Board member…strategic additions are needed to marshal the resources (intellectual, political, social and financial capital) needed going forward.”

  • “Many agreed that a clear vision for the future will put the Board in a better position to make tough decisions designed to enhance the ability of the President pursue and achieve a pre-determined vision.”

For the past two years, the community has been offering similar recommendations to the board gratis, and demanded changes far more actionable than The Whelan Group’s vague bullet points: from student and faculty trustees to open meeting minutes. But from the way that things have progressed since 2012, it’s clear that Cooper’s board is taking nobody’s advice. Free Cooper Union is past the point of reconciling with disengaged, wasteful, obstinate trustees, who continue to absolve and validate their presence by spending hundreds-of-thousands of dollars on what is nothing more than a talking cure.

[Full document on Free Cooper Union Facebook]

Free Cooper Union presents #TwoWeeksOfLeaks

Free Cooper Union has received a collection of anonymously leaked confidential documents pertaining to The Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees and the Administration of Jamshed Bharucha. For the next two weeks we will be releasing one document per day to our press contacts. Bharucha and the college’s trustees have claimed to run a transparent and accountable administration, yet the community has unilaterally been barred from participation in decision-making and access to financial and organizational information. On November 11th, the Board prematurely cancelled the election of a student representative because the process adopted by students was too democratic. Transparency without accountability means nothing, and Cooper’s Board has demonstrated that they are accountable to no one.

In addition to documents queued for release in the next two weeks, Free Cooper Union is calling for additional leaks pertaining to the mismanagement perpetrated by Cooper Union’s past and present Board and Administration. Information may be emailed to cooperunionsos@gmail.com or sent to our voicemail at 917-746-5634.

In celebration of open flows of information, on November 24th from 6 to 9pm, students will be performing a second reading of the Board transcript leaked this summer by the Village Voice at e-flux, 311 East Broadway, New York.